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Martin Ransohoff

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 22

The new issue of feminist film journal cléo has dropped, built around the theme of “hot”. Among other pleasures, Kathleen Kampeas-Rittenhouse shows the bleak political view that undergirds Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (“And so perhaps the more-or-less explicit themes of interdependence and fragility woven in among Kedi’s lighter-hearted narratives are an attempt to apply a loving lens to a bleak reality—a gentle, wet-nosed nudge reminding audiences of their capacity to nurture“); Elise Moore offers an interesting perspective on the dilemmas presented in The Bigamist and There’s Always Tomorrow (“A comparison of the Lupino and Sirk films highlights what Lupino’s outsider approach added to American cinema’s criticism of postwar conformism”); Kiva Reardon highlights Denis’s Friday Night as an important precursor to her supposedly anomalous latest, Let the Sunshine In (“in Denis’ filmmaking, we locate a cinematic space where the immediacy of women’s wants and needs is foregrounded, indulged and generously examined”); and Sarah Fonseca shows a century’s worth of obsessing about mermaids culminating in Smoczynska’s The Lure (“When the viewer realizes what Smoczynska is cheekily telling us about gender, the question of whether or not the mermaids’ song is manipulating audiences becomes irrelevant”).

“In Arbuckle’s [first] two features, it’s his physical presence that matters, not consistency of character; in one he’s a genial sheriff, in the other a lawyer inclined toward crookedness. Chaplin retained the Tramp persona in The Kid, but the film is a rather episodic affair. Once the main plot is resolved, a reel pads out its length with a dream sequence set in heaven. The Linder films are lively but digressive, with plots propelled by casual pranks and lovers’ misunderstandings. By contrast, Lloyd’s features moved toward tight construction. Despite his claim that his films just grew longer accidentally, they were shaped in ways that make them seem through-composed. His comedy sequences are deftly prolonged, building and topping themselves with great speed. Gags are embedded and interwoven in ways that yield surprises, and motifs set up early in the film pay off later. We may have forgotten about them, but Lloyd hasn’t.” David Bordwell argues that most dismissals of Harold Lloyd are flat-out wrong, shaped by a prescient hold on copyright that restricted our sense of his variety and innovation. Though even he can’t make Lloyd’s meticulous courting of the commercial come off any less depressingly chipper.

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Review: The White Dawn

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

At times one feels that the elemental motions induced by the instinct to survive almost dictate a pace of their own in this movie about the initial contact between a group of nomadic Eskimos and the English-speaking world back in the days when New Bedford sailors scoured the northern reaches of the continent in search of whales. There is a certain natural sense of episodic movement in the migration of a people from one village site to another as the food supply runs low and new, richer hunting grounds must be found. There is an ease and unhurriedness in the way the camera lingers on the things Eskimos really do (or did) with their time which avoids being static because it’s really pretty interesting, whether we are witnessing the hunting of seals or the building of an igloo or the ritual pairing-off of couples following an evening of vaguely familiar-seeming games and frenzied dancing by a few of the local boys decked out in antlers. Even without the story of three sailors who are stranded somewhere in Baffin Bay and subsequently rescued by Eskimos, this would make an engaging documentary on a foreign culture; and in fact it is so difficult not to be genuinely moved by the warmth and humanness which flows so generously from The White Dawn that one is tempted to believe it a better film than, perhaps, it is.

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Out of the Past: Dance of the Vampires

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

To call Roman Polanski’s fourth feature film a mere spoof on vampire movies is as ridiculously shallow as to call it The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck. Polanski’s own title, Dance of the Vampires, far better suits this ambivalently comic, profoundly troubling sortie into cinema gothic. The villain in the case is the spectacularly myopic producer Martin Ransohoff, who cut some nine minutes from the original film (including some of the best sequences, if Ivan Butler’s description of the British print is to be believed), redubbed certain of the voices (including the director’s own), and slapped that insipid title on the film for its American release. With righteous indignation, Polanski asked that his name not be associated with the film as exhibited in the United States.

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